Looks like BP CEO Tony Hayward is going to "gethis life back" after all—and perhaps as soon as this week. As The Wall Street Journalreported over the weekend, his departure seems imminent, even if he is likelyto retain his board set through the end of 2010.
What does this mean for BP? A new monarch is set toinherit the unenviable task of rebuilding the company's tattered brand image—andgetting beyond Beyond Petroleum.Head of U.S. Operations Robert Dudley is the current favorite to take over thehot seat, and the stretch ahead for him is a long one by any measure. Hedoesn't just have a PR headache to deal with, but a serious loss of trust inthe marketplace, an internal battle to restore employee confidence and the manyfallouts of the spill for the Gulf of Mexico community. And there's theshareholder issue: BP shares have lost almost half their value since theexplosion on the Deepwater Horizon in April.The WSJ report emphasizes that Hayward's downfall isn't dueto mismanagement or inept strategizing. Rather, the decision is a "recognition of the fact that Mr. Hayward wasno longer seen as able to address one of the company's most crucial tasks: repairing BP's reputation and restoring its credibility inthe critical U.S. market , where it is the biggest oil and gasproducer."
For all his faults, Hayward failed most spectacularlyand publicly by being unable to effectively motivate his team to address thedisaster. All the social media and grassroots PR tools were at Hayward'sdisposal, but he failed to use them to engage consumers, shareholders and theirlocal and global communities. As a result, BP has washed away decades ofreputation building.
Last month, I reported from New York's Social Mediaweek, questioning whether BP would leverage the growing power of social mediain the coming months to refocus its brand.
In the post, I quoted Ogilvy's Planning DirectorEvan Slater on the concept of proactive vs. reactive engagement. Speculating onhow BP could have proactively embraced itsnetwork instead of having to react once the situation was out ofcontrol, Slater said that "Thestakeholders could have done some social media outreach." Healso offered the following insight: "I can bet that the difference would have been huge.Instead of just recruiting the smartest people, make the entire world yourproblem solvers."
Slater's emphasis on using a community ofstakeholders is not new. Several companies have successfully used social mediato empower their stakeholders and strengthen their brands reputation. PepsiCo'sRefresh Project, Timberland'sEarth Keepers community and Intel's are just some examples of social media done well. What makes his observationrelevant for companies like BP is the connection between social media and anoften debated issue at organizations: how to best utilize your human capital.While no one company can recruit all the smart talent, they can make everystakeholder an important contributor to the processes. By doing so, they canharness the power of a worldwide web of innovators, thinkers and problemsolvers to their advantage. Remember the 'two heads are better than one'lesson?
For Dudley, this issue is likely to be a majorchallenge: i.e., how BP utilizes the power of social media to build long termconsciousness by illustrating transparent business policies and encouragingproactive stakeholder outreach. For a company that became synonymous with Beyond Petroleum by moving thefocus away from its mainstay product to community development, labor relationsand philanthropy, the ability to actively engage the same stakeholders incoursing its strategic path will determine the future for BP.
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